Friday, November 18, 2011

The Anti-Immigrant Republicans

In a recent column for, Bruce Bialosky took issue with a Wall Street Journal editorial on immigration:
They finish the editorial by stating – and here is where the WSJ editors join hands with the left – “Immigrants bring vitality and skills to the U.S. economy.” This clearly implies what liberals have alleged for years: that Republicans are anti-immigrant. I have never once seen a statement by a Republican presidential candidate against immigrants, and the editorial did not (and could not) cite one.
He makes an interesting point. We all know the default setting for a Republican candidate is extreme and uncompromising intolerance for illegal immigration, but is it really fair to call them anti-immigrant in the more general sense?

Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have expressed support for establishing English as the official language, a non-solution to a non-issue that would serve primarily to reinforce the misconception that many who come here don't bother to learn English. Promoting the learning of English isn't inherently anti-immigrant, I suppose, but intentionally promulgating a false stereotype probably is, so that one's kind of a wash.

Herman Cain has been making what may or may not be jokes about lining the border with terrible death traps, but, you know, it's not like there'd be any visa-holders among the fatalities. Cain is also in favor of Alabama's new immigration law, which is a disaster in many, many ways. But, again, the law doesn't target legal immigrants—parts of it target undocumented workers, and parts of it target everyone with an accent or brown skin, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.[1]

And then there are the sins of omission. The current immigration system is woefully ineffective—many who hope to immigrate legally are forced to wait in absurdly long lines, and even more are told there's no line they're eligible to wait in—and with a few exceptions (most notably Gary Johnson), the Republican candidates have shown no signs of giving a crap. For all their talk in other contexts of market forces and supply and demand, they've been inexcusably ignorant (or willfully dismissive) of the connection between economic conditions and immigration patterns.[2]

Of course, even the candidates who use the harshest rhetoric on "illegals" are careful to avoid saying anything that can be construed as hostile toward legal immigrants—they're running for office, for Pete's sake—but they haven't said much in support of expanding the avenues for legal immigration either. Instead, they play into fears about illegal immigrants streaming across the border and having babies and taking our jobs and wallets and healthcare and whatever else isn't bolted down, offering only the occasional "first we need to get illegal immigration under control, and then we can talk about the dysfunctional visa process", as if there isn't a causal link between the two.

This is all to say that I think the Republican approach to immigration is, at best, severely misguided, and at worst, a shameful case of exploiting and exacerbating a genuine humanitarian problem for political gain.[3] But hey, that's just my opinion, and it still doesn't answer the doubly-subjective (in terms of both policy and semantics) question of whether it's fair to characterize the hard-liners as anti-immigrant.

I found my answer when I went to the candidates' websites to see what they said on legal immigration. Not a whole lot, as it turns out, other than a few vague reaffirmations of their general support for the concept, but something else caught my attention:
Rick Perry:
As part of a broader tax reform strategy, I will also ask Congress to eliminate direct subsidies and tax credits that distort the energy marketplace. My plan levels the playing field, ending Obama’s anti-growth policies and opening a competitive marketplace to benefit American citizens.
Mitt Romney:
President Obama has neglected the fundamental tasks of creating jobs and growing our economy. Instead, he’s focused his efforts on an anti-jobs, anti-growth agenda that has significantly expanded the role of the federal government.
Michele Bachmann:
Researchers, entrepreneurs and investors across America have been paralyzed by this president’s anti-business policies that have created severe uncertainty. As president, I will signal by way of leadership to innovators, that the time has come to once again unleash the genius of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ working to create the wealth of the nation.
Newt Gingrich:
The fact is, we are not going to close the deficit and move towards a balanced budget unless we follow the policies that foster the economic growth necessary to create jobs.The first and most immediate step would be to employ the policies that encourage investment, create jobs, and reward innovation and entrepreneurship -- exactly the opposite of the Obama anti-jobs policies.
As long as the Republican candidates consider Obama anti-jobs/business/growth for favoring policies likely to be ineffective, or that betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation, or that come off as thinly-veiled attempts to distract and deceive voters, I'm going to go ahead and call them anti-immigrant for exactly the same reasons.

Seems fair to me.

1. The provision requiring law enforcement officers to check a detainee's immigration status applies only "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States", and officers aren't allowed to consider race, color, or national origin "except to the extent permitted by the United States Constitution or the Constitution of Alabama". This is in no way the same as saying officers aren't allowed to consider race, color, or national origin.
2. And yet, they seem to think there is a connection between the ability of people to move to where economic conditions are better and the height of the physical obstacles we put in the way.
3. Politicians love issues that (a) people are ill-informed about, (b) arouse strong emotions, and (c) allow them to blame problems on groups lacking political power, and immigration is all three. If only there were some way to depict that graphically.